The Bradley effect (less commonly the Wilder effect) is a theory concerning observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would nonetheless tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for the non-white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.
The Bradley effect posits that the inaccurate polls were skewed by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Specifically, some white voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation. Members of the public may feel under pressure to provide an answer that is deemed to be more publicly acceptable, or 'politically correct'. The reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may factor into voters' answers.
Some analysts have dismissed the theory of the Bradley effect, or argued that it may have existed in past elections, but not in more recent ones, such as when Barack Obama was elected and re-elected President of the United States in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Others believe that it is a persistent phenomenon. Similar effects have been posited in other contexts, for example, the Shy Tory Factor and spiral of silence.
In 1982, Tom Bradley, the long-time mayor of Los Angeles, ran as the Democratic Party's candidate for Governor of California against Republican candidate George Deukmejian, who is white (of Armenian descent). Most polls in the final days before the election showed Bradley with a significant lead. Based on exit polls, a number of media outlets projected Bradley as the winner and early editions of the next day's San Francisco Chronicle featured a headline proclaiming "Bradley Win Projected." However, despite winning a majority of the votes cast on election day, Bradley narrowly lost the overall race once absentee ballots were included. Post-election research indicated that a smaller percentage of white voters actually voted for Bradley than polls had predicted, and that previously undecided voters had voted for Deukmejian in statistically anomalous numbers.
A month prior to the election, Bill Roberts, Deukmejian's campaign manager, predicted that white voters would break for his candidate. He told reporters that he expected Deukmejian to receive approximately 5 percent more votes than polling numbers indicated because white voters were giving inaccurate polling responses to conceal the appearance of racial prejudice. Deukmejian disavowed Roberts's comments, and Roberts resigned his post as campaign manager.
Some news sources and columnists have attributed the theory's origin to Charles Henry, a professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Henry researched the election in its aftermath and, in a 1983 study, reached the controversial conclusion that race was the most likely factor in Bradley's defeat. However, one critic of the Bradley effect theory has charged that Mervin Field of The Field Poll had already offered the theory as explanation for his poll's errors, suggesting it (without providing supporting data for the claim) on the day after the election. Ken Khachigian, a senior strategist and day-to-day tactician in Deukmejian's 1982 campaign, has noted that Field's final pre-election poll was badly timed, since it was taken over the weekend, and most late polls failed to register a surge in support for Deukmejian in the campaign's final two weeks. In addition, the exit polling failed to consider absentee balloting in an election which saw an "unprecedented wave of absentee voters" organized on Deukmejian's behalf. In short, Khachigian argues, the "Bradley effect" was simply an attempt to come up with an excuse for what was really the result of flawed opinion polling practices.
1983 to 1992
Other elections which have been cited as possible demonstrations of the Bradley effect include the 1983 race for Mayor of Chicago, the 1988 Democratic primary race in Wisconsin for President of the United States, and the 1989 race for Mayor of New York City.
The 1983 race in Chicago featured a black candidate, Harold Washington, running against a white candidate, Bernard Epton. More so than the California governor's race the year before, the Washington-Epton matchup evinced strong and overt racial overtones throughout the campaign. Two polls conducted approximately two weeks before the election showed Washington with a 14-point lead in the race. A third conducted just three days before the election confirmed Washington continuing to hold a lead of 14 points. But in the election's final results, Washington won by less than four points.
In the 1988 Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin, pre-election polls pegged black candidate Jesse Jackson—at the time, a legitimate challenger to white candidate and frontrunner Michael Dukakis—as likely to receive approximately one-third of the white vote. Ultimately, however, Jackson carried only about one quarter of that vote, with the discrepancy in the heavily white state contributing to a large margin of victory for Dukakis over the second-place Jackson.
In the 1989 race for Mayor of New York, a poll conducted just over a week before the election showed black candidate David Dinkins holding an 18-point lead over white candidate Rudy Giuliani. Four days before the election, a new poll showed that lead to have shrunk, but still standing at 14 points. On the day of the election, Dinkins prevailed by only two points.
Similar voter behavior was noted in the 1989 race for Governor of Virginia between Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, an African-American, and Republican Marshall Coleman, who was white. In that race, Wilder prevailed, but by less than half of one percent, when pre-election poll numbers showed him on average with a 9 percent lead. The discrepancy was attributed to white voters telling pollsters that they were undecided when they actually voted for Marshall Coleman.
After the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial election, the Bradley effect was sometimes called the Wilder effect. Both terms are still used; and less commonly, the term "Dinkins effect" is also used.
Also sometimes mentioned are:
- The 1987 mayoral race in Philadelphia between white former mayor Frank Rizzo and black incumbent Wilson Goode. Goode prevailed by a narrow margin, despite having had a significantly larger lead in pre-election polls.
- The 1990 Senate race in North Carolina between black candidate Harvey Gantt and white candidate Jesse Helms. Gantt lost his race by six points. Two late polls showed Gantt ahead by four to six points, but one other showed a four-point Helms victory.
- The 1991 race for Mayor of the City of Houston between Texas State Representative Sylvester Turner and Bob Lanier.
- The 1992 Senate race in Illinois between black candidate Carol Moseley Braun and white candidate Richard Williamson. Braun won her general election race by 10 points, but polls indicated a margin of up to 20 points. However, polls had been just as erroneous, though this time underestimating Braun's support, during the primary election. Braun won that contest—also against a white candidate—by three points after polls predicted she would lose by double digits.
- During the early 1990s electoral contests with former Ku Klux Klan leader and Nazi sympathizer David Duke, many potential voters would not tell pollsters that they favored Duke (as they feared the ostracization that could result from being on record as being a Duke supporter), but would go on to vote for him anyway. The commentary at that time was that Duke "flies under the radar."
In 1995, when Colin Powell's name was floated as a possible 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Powell reportedly spoke of being cautioned by publisher Earl G. Graves about the phenomenon described by the Bradley effect. With regard to opinion polls showing Powell leading a hypothetical race with then-incumbent Bill Clinton, Powell was quoted as saying, "Every time I see Earl Graves, he says, 'Look, man, don't let them hand you no crap. When [white voters] go in that booth, they ain't going to vote for you.'"
Possible diminished effects
Analyses of recent elections suggest that there may be some evidence of a diminution in the 'Bradley Effect'. However at this stage such evidence is too limited to confirm a trend.
2003 Louisiana gubernatorial election
A few analysts, such as political commentator and The Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, attributed the four-point loss by Indian American candidate Bobby Jindal in the 2003 Louisiana gubernatorial runoff election to the Bradley effect. In making his argument, Barnes mentioned polls that had shown Jindal with a lead. Others, such as National Review contributor Rod Dreher, countered that later polls taken just before the election correctly showed that lead to have evaporated, and reported the candidates to be statistically tied. In 2007, Jindal ran again, this time securing an easy victory, with his final vote total remaining in line with or stronger than the predictions of the polls conducted shortly before the election.
2006 Senate races
In 2006, there was speculation that the Bradley effect might appear in the Tennessee race for United States Senator between Harold Ford, Jr. and white candidate Bob Corker. Ford lost by a slim margin, but an examination of exit polling data indicated that the percentage of white voters who voted for him remained close to the percentage that indicated they would do so in polls conducted prior to the election. Several other 2006 biracial contests saw pre-election polls predict their respective elections' final results with similar accuracy.
In the race for United States Senator from Maryland, black Republican candidate Michael Steele lost by a wider margin than predicted by late polls. However, those polls correctly predicted Steele's numbers, with the discrepancy in his margin of defeat resulting from their underestimating the numbers for his white Democratic opponent, then longtime Representative Ben Cardin. Those same polls also underestimated the Democratic candidate in the state's race for governor—a race in which both candidates were white.
The overall accuracy of the polling data from the 2006 elections was cited, both by those who argue that the Bradley effect has diminished in American politics, and those who doubt its existence in the first place. When asked about the issue in 2007, Douglas Wilder indicated that while he believed there was still a need for black candidates to be wary of polls, he felt that voters were displaying "more openness" in their polling responses and becoming "less resistant" to giving an accurate answer than was the case at the time of his gubernatorial election. When asked about the possibility of seeing a Bradley effect in 2008, Joe Trippi, who had been a deputy campaign manager for Tom Bradley in 1982, offered a similar assessment, saying, "The country has come a hell of a long way. I think it's a mistake to think that there'll be any kind of big surprise like there was in the Bradley campaign in 1982. But I also think it'd be a mistake to say, 'It's all gone.'"
Inaccurate polling statistics attributed to the Bradley effect are not limited to pre-election polls. In the initial hours after voting concluded in the Bradley-Deukmejian race in 1982, similarly inaccurate exit polls led some news organizations to project Bradley to have won. Republican pollster V. Lance Tarrance, Jr. argues that the exit polls were wrong because Bradley actually won on election day turnout, but lost the absentee vote.
Exit polls in the Wilder-Coleman race in 1989 also proved inaccurate in their projection of a ten-point win for Wilder, despite those same exit polls accurately predicting other statewide races. In 2006, a ballot measure in Michigan to end affirmative action generated exit poll numbers showing the race to be too close to call. Ultimately, the measure passed by a wide margin.
The causes of the polling errors are debated, but pollsters generally believe that perceived societal pressures have led some white voters to be less than forthcoming in their poll responses. These voters supposedly have harbored a concern that declaring their support for a white candidate over a non-white candidate will create a perception that the voter is racially prejudiced. During the 1988 Jackson presidential campaign, Murray Edelman, a veteran election poll analyst for news organizations and a former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, found the race of the pollster conducting the interview to be a factor in the discrepancy. Edelman's research showed white voters to be more likely to indicate support for Jackson when asked by a black interviewer than when asked by a white interviewer.
Andrew Kohut, who was the president of the Gallup Organization during the 1989 Dinkins/Giuliani race and later president of the Pew Research Center, which conducted research into the phenomenon, has suggested that the discrepancies may arise, not from white participants giving false answers, but rather from white voters who have negative opinions of blacks being less likely to participate in polling at all than white voters who do not share such negative sentiments with regard to blacks.
While there is widespread belief in a racial component as at least a partial explanation for the polling inaccuracies in the elections in question, it is not universally accepted that this is the primary factor. Peter Brodnitz, a pollster and contributor to the newsletter The Polling Report, worked on the 2006 campaign of black U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr., and contrary to Edelman's findings in 1988, Brodnitz indicated that he did not find the race of the interviewer to be a factor in voter responses in pre-election polls. Brodnitz suggested that late-deciding voters tend to have moderate-to-conservative political opinions and that this may account in part for last-minute decision-makers breaking largely away from black candidates, who have generally been more liberal than their white opponents in the elections in question. Another prominent skeptic of the Bradley effect is Gary Langer, the director of polling for ABC News. Langer has described the Bradley effect as "a theory in search of data." He has argued that inconsistency of its appearance, particularly in more recent elections, casts doubt upon its validity as a theory.
Of all of the races presented as possible examples of the Bradley effect theory, perhaps the one most fiercely rebutted by the theory's critics is the 1982 Bradley/Deukmejian contest itself. People involved with both campaigns, as well as those involved with the inaccurate polls have refuted the significance of the Bradley effect in determining that election's outcome. Former Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Mathews said that he talked to more than a dozen people who played significant roles in either the Bradley or Deukmejian campaign and that only two felt there was a significant race-based component to the polling failures. Mark DiCamillo, Director of The Field Poll, which was among those that had shown Bradley with a strong lead, has not ruled out the possibility of a Bradley effect as a minor factor, but also said that the organization's own internal examination after that election identified other possible factors that may have contributed to their error, including a shift in voter preference after the final pre-election polls and a high-profile ballot initiative in the same election, a Republican absentee ballot program and a low minority turnout, each of which may have caused pre-election polls to inaccurately predict which respondents were likely voters.
Prominent Republican pollster V. Lance Tarrance, Jr. flatly denies that the Bradley effect occurred during that election, echoing the absentee ballot factor cited by DiCamillo. Tarrance also reports that his own firm's pre-election polls done for the Deukmejian campaign showed the race as having closed from a wide lead for Bradley one month prior to the election down to a statistical dead heat by the day of the election. While acknowledging that some news sources projected a Bradley victory based upon Field Poll exit polls which were also inaccurate, he counters that at the same time, other news sources were able to correctly predict Deukmejian's victory by using other exit polls that were more accurate. Tarrance claims that The Field Poll speculated, without supplying supporting data, in offering the Bradley effect theory as an explanation for why its polling had failed, and he attributes the emergence of the Bradley effect theory to media outlets focusing on this, while ignoring that there were other conflicting polls which had been correct all along.
Sal Russo, a consultant for Deukmejian in the race, has said that another private pollster working for the campaign, Lawrence Research, also accurately captured the late surge in favor of Deukmejian, polling as late as the night before the election. According to Russo, that firm's prediction after its final poll was an extremely narrow victory for Deukmejian. He asserts that the failure of pre-election polls such as The Field Poll arose, largely because they stopped polling too soon, and that the failure of the exit polls was due to their inability to account for absentee ballots.
Blair Levin, a staffer on the Bradley campaign in 1982 said that as he reviewed early returns at a Bradley hotel on election night, he saw that Deukmejian would probably win. In those early returns, he had taken particular note of the high number of absentee ballots, as well as a higher-than-expected turnout in California's Central Valley by conservative voters who had been mobilized to defeat the handgun ballot initiative mentioned by DiCamillo. According to Levin, even as he heard the "victory" celebration going on among Bradley supporters downstairs, those returns had led him to the conclusion that Bradley was likely to lose. John Phillips, the primary sponsor of the controversial gun control proposition, said that he felt as though he, rather than polling inaccuracies, was the primary target of the blame assigned by those present at the Bradley hotel that night. Nelson Rising, Bradley's campaign chair, spoke of having warned Bradley long before any polling concerns arose that endorsing the ballot initiative would ultimately doom his campaign. Rejecting the idea that the Bradley effect theory was a factor in the outcome, Rising said, "If there is such an effect, it shouldn't be named for Bradley, or associated with him in any way."
In 2008, several political analysts discussing the Bradley effect referred to a study authored by Daniel J. Hopkins, a post-doctoral fellow in Harvard University's Department of Government, which sought to determine whether the Bradley effect theory was valid, and whether an analogous phenomenon might be observed in races between a female candidate and a male candidate. Hopkins analyzed data from 133 elections between 1989 and 2006, compared the results of those elections to the corresponding pre-election poll numbers, and considered some of the alternate explanations which have been offered for any discrepancies therein. The study concluded finally that the Bradley effect was a real phenomenon, amounting to a median gap of 3.1 percentage points before 1996, but that it was likely not the sole factor in those discrepancies, and further that it had ceased to manifest itself at all by 1996. The study also suggested a connection between the Bradley effect and the level of racial rhetoric exhibited in the discussion of the political issues of the day. It asserted that the timing of the disappearance of the Bradley effect coincided with that of a decrease in such rhetoric in American politics over such potentially racially charged issues as crime and welfare. The study found no evidence of a corresponding effect based upon gender – in fact, female Senate candidates received on average 1.2 percentage points more votes than polls had predicted.
2008 United States presidential election
The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, a black United States Senator, brought a heightened level of scrutiny to the Bradley effect, as observers searched for signs of the effect in comparing Obama's polling numbers to the actual election results during the Democratic primary elections. After a victorious showing in the Iowa caucuses, where votes were cast publicly, polls predicted that Obama would also capture the New Hampshire Democratic primary election by a large margin over Hillary Clinton, a white senator. However, Clinton defeated Obama by three points in the New Hampshire race, where ballots were cast secretly, immediately initiating suggestions by some analysts that the Bradley effect may have been at work. Other analysts cast doubt on this hypothesis, saying that the polls underestimated Clinton rather than overestimated Obama. Clinton may have also benefited from the primacy effect in the New Hampshire primary as she was listed ahead of Obama on every New Hampshire ballot.
After the Super Tuesday primaries of February 5, 2008, political science researchers from the University of Washington found trends suggesting the possibility that with regard to Obama, the effect's presence or absence may be dependent on the percentage of the electorate that is black. The researchers noted that to that point in the election season, opinion polls taken just prior to an election tended to overestimate Obama in states with a black population below eight percent, to track him within the polls' margins of error in states with a black population between ten and twenty percent, and to underestimate him in states with a black population exceeding twenty-five percent. The first finding suggested the possibility of the Bradley effect, while the last finding suggested the possibility of a "reverse" Bradley effect in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama or are underpolled. For example, many general election polls in North Carolina and Virginia assume that black voters will be 15% to 20% of each state's electorate; they were around a quarter of each state's electorate in 2004. This high support effect has been attributed to high black voter turnout in those states' primaries. Blacks supported Obama by margins often exceeding 97%. With only one exception, each state which had opinion polls incorrectly predict the outcome of the Democratic contest, had polls which accurately predicted the outcome of the state's Republican contest (which featured only white candidates).
Alternatively, Douglas Wilder has suggested that a 'reverse Bradley effect' may be possible because some Republicans may not openly say they will vote for a black candidate, but may do so on election day. The "Fishtown Effect" is a scenario where prejudiced or racist white voters cast their vote for a black candidate solely on economic concerns. Fishtown, a mostly white and economically depressed neighborhood in Philadelphia, voted 81% for Obama in the 2008 election. Alternatively, writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez suggested another plausible factor is something called the "Huxtable effect", where the positive image of the respectable African American character Cliff Huxtable, a respected middle-class pediatrician and father on the 1980s television series The Cosby Show, made young voters who grew up with that series' initial run comfortable with the idea of an African American man being a viable presidential candidate, which enhanced Obama's election chances with that population. Others have called it the "Palmer effect" on the theory that David Palmer, a fictional president played by Dennis Haysbert during the second and third seasons of the television drama 24, showed viewers that an African American man can be a strong commander in chief.
This election was widely scrutinized as analysts tried to definitively determine whether the Bradley effect is still a significant factor in the political sphere. An inspection of the discrepancy between pre-election polls and Obama's ultimate support reveals significant bivariate support for the hypothesized "reverse Bradley effect". On average, Obama received three percentage points more support in the primaries and caucuses than he did during polling; however, he also had a strong ground campaign, and many polls do not question voters with only cell phones, who are predominantly young.
Obama went on to win the election with 53% of the popular vote and a large electoral college victory.
Following the 2008 presidential election, a number of news sources reported that the result confirmed the absence of a 'Bradley Effect' in view of the close correlation between the pre-election polls and the actual share of the popular vote.
However, it has been suggested that such assumptions based on the overall share of the vote are too simplistic because they ignore the fact that underlying factors can be contradictory and hence masked in overall voting figures. For instance, it has been suggested that an extant Bradley Effect was masked by the unusually high turnout amongst African Americans and other Democratic leaning voter groups under the unique circumstances of the 2008 election (i.e. the first serious bid for President by an African-American candidate).
2016 United States presidential election
The 2016 presidential election became one of the most polarizing elections in American history. According to major opinion polling, former United States Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was predicted to defeat billionaire businessman Donald Trump. The Trump campaign was accused of promoting white supremacy, sexism, and Islamophobia. Nevertheless, Trump won the key Rust Belt states of Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, giving him more electoral votes than Secretary Clinton. Post-election analysis of public opinion polling showed that Trump's base was much larger than predicted. Secretary Clinton was seen as the "politically correct" candidate, and many voters who were polled felt pressured to lie about their actual candidate preference.
Some political scientists argue that Secretary Clinton's involvement in the Obama Administration – that of the first African-American President of the United States – created a pseudo-Bradley effect. Additionally, Clinton was also the first woman ever nominated by a major American political party. Many voters in swing states did not want to be accused of supporting racism or sexism, and falsely reported their support for Clinton in the election.
Clinton briefly discusses the Bradley effect in her 2017 memoir What Happened.
- Kevin Drum, "East Coast Bias Watch", washingtonmonthly.com, July 23, 2008, citing a Google search: "3,820 hits for Wilder Effect compared to 44,900 hits for Bradley Effect"
- Payne, Gregory(1986). Tom Bradley: The Impossible Dream : A Biography Roundtable Pub. The chapter about Bradley Effect (Chapter 16 / pp. 243 – 288) is available online at "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 20, 2009. Retrieved October 16, 2008.
- Gary Langer (November 8, 1989). "Election Poll Problems: Did Some Voters Lie?". Associated Press. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
- Reddy, Patrick. (January 20, 2002). "Does McCall Have A Chance?", Buffalo News, p. H1
- Elder, Janet. (May 16, 2007). "Will There Be an 'Obama Effect?'", The New York Times
"In high-profile contests where one of the major party candidates is black, pre-election telephone polls have often been wrong, overstating the strength of the black candidate. In polling circles this is known as the 'Bradley effect' or the 'Wilder effect' or the 'Dinkins effect.'"
"During Jesse Jackson's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, Murray Edelman of CBS News and Rutgers University took a look at the effect the race of the interviewer might have had on the way people answered questions about who they intended to vote for. 'White respondents showed more support for Jackson when talking to black interviewers than the other way around,' said Mr. Edelman. 'The support for Jackson was less when white respondents talked to white interviewers.'"
"Writing in The Polling Report, Mr. Brodnitz said the race of the interviewer was not a factor in their polling in 2006. Mr. Brodnitz said that problems in the final pre-election public polls had nothing to do with race, but were caused by methodology. Brodnitz contends that the public polling in the Ford race and perhaps the earlier errors in races with black candidates can be attributed in part to polling not taking full account of the types of voters who make their decisions very late in campaigns. He said those voters tended to be older married white women who were either political moderates or conservatives."
- III, William A. Henry (November 15, 1982). "Press: Fighting the Last War". Retrieved March 1, 2018 – via www.time.com.
- Perez, Simon. (October 9, 2008). "Could Bradley Effect Change November Election? Archived December 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine." KPIX-TV, "Political Consultant Don Solem explains: 'It's not so much they're afraid to say it as they think it might be taken the wrong way.' Solem said the Bradley Effect is also known as social desirability bias."
- Rojas, Aurelio. (October 9, 2008). "California poll on Prop. 8 could show 'Bradley effect' Archived October 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine." Sacramento Bee, "'Anyone who studies survey research will tell you one of the biggest problems we encounter is this notion of social desirability bias,' [Patrick Egan, a professor of politics at New York University] said."
- Tarrance, Jr., V. Lance (October 13, 2008). "The Bradley Effect – Selective Memory". Retrieved October 13, 2008.
- A Base Election After All? Weekly Standard; Aaron Miskin; November 11, 2008
- Nelson, Colleen McCain. (August 10, 2002). "Race makes state races hard to call", Dallas Morning News
- Rojas, Aurelio. (October 9, 2008). "California poll on Prop. 8 could show 'Bradley effect' Archived October 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine." Sacramento Bee, "DiCamillo said a postelection analysis conducted by his organization found 'nine out of 10' undecided respondents wound up voting for Deukmejian."
- (1982, October 13). "AIDE TO COAST G.O.P. CANDIDATE RESIGNS AFTER REMARKS ON RACISM", The New York Times
- Chadwick, Alex. (October 6, 2008). "Should Obama Fear The "Bradley Effect"?", NPR
- Geraghty, Jim. (October 9, 2008). "Who's Most Worried About a Bradley Effect? Archived October 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", National Review Online
- Morrison, Patt. (October 2, 2008). "The 'Bradley effect' in 2008", Los Angeles Times
- Ken Khachigian. (November 2, 2008). "If Obama Loses: Don't Blame the Bradley Effect","The Washington Post
- Kachigian, op. cit.
- Keeler, Scott and Nilanthi Samaranayake. (February 7, 2007). "Can You Trust What Polls Say about Obama's Electoral Prospects?", Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
- Polman, Dick. (January 21, 2007). "Barack Obama's race seems to be a second-tier issue", The Philadelphia Inquirer, "The American Debate"
"One can also argue, however, that the wind at Obama's back might not be nearly as strong as it seems. Despite the fact that Americans seem downright bullish about backing a qualified black presidential candidate – in a December Newsweek poll, 93 percent said they would vote for such a person – there is also the nagging possibility that a lot of people don't really mean it, that they merely want to sound PC when the pollster calls.
There's even a name for this kind of behavior. Actually, several names. 'The Bradley effect' is named for black Democrat Tom Bradley, who ran for governor of California in 1982 after serving as mayor of Los Angeles. Whites told pollsters they were pro-Bradley, but on election day they voted for the white Republican, costing Bradley the race. Then there is the 'Wilder effect,' named for black Virginia Democrat Doug Wilder. While running for governor in 1989, he was thought to be ahead by 10 percentage points, buoyed by a big white vote. But in the end, he won in a squeaker because most white voters bailed out.
Jesse Jackson had a similar experience in 1988. As a presidential candidate, he was supposedly cruising toward a primary season win in heavily white Wisconsin. But what the white Democratic voters had told the pollsters, and what they actually did, turned out to be very different, and Jackson was beaten. Colin Powell was well-aware of this syndrome when he was weighing a candidacy in 1995; a friend reportedly warned him, 'When they go in the booth, they ain't going to vote for you.'
Some analysts have assumed that the same syndrome helped doom Harold Ford Jr., the black Democrat who lost a Senate race in Tennessee in November by only three percentage points; indeed, he was apparently hurt by a GOP TV ad that implied he partied with white girls. The facts, however, suggest otherwise. His projected share of the white vote, as measured by the pre-election polls, closely tracked his share on election day."
- Derbyshire, John. (May 15, 2007). "None of the Above Archived May 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.", National Review Online
"When David Dinkins, an African-American, ran for mayor of New York City, he won. He didn't win by anything like the margin the pollsters were predicting, though, and Dinkins's win left those pollsters scratching their heads. Where had the missing Dinkins voters gone? The common conclusion of the pollsters was that race is such a charged issue in the U.S.A. that people will lie about their intentions to vote for a black candidate all the way to the voting booth."
- Citrin, Jack and Donald Philip Green and David O. Sears. (Spring, 1990). "White Reactions to Black Candidates: When Does Race Matter?", Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 1, pp. 74–96
- Isaacson, Walter. (April 11, 1983). "The Making of a Litmus Test", Time
- Carr, Camilla. (April 12, 1983). "Washington-Epton Race Was Often Ugly", WBBM-TV
- Peterson, Bill. (April 4, 1988). "For Jackson, a Potential Breakthrough; On Eve of Primary, Support From White Officials and Wisconsin Voters Appears Strong", The Washington Post
- Dionne, E. J. Jr. (April 6, 1988). "Dukakis Defeats Jackson Handily in Wisconsin Vote", The New York Times
- Shapiro, Walter. (November 20, 1989). "Breakthrough in Virginia", Time
"All the published pre-election surveys had shown Wilder leading his Republican rival J. Marshall Coleman by margins of 4% to 15%. Even an initial television exit poll had anointed Wilder with a 10 percentage-point triumph. But by the time Wilder felt comfortable enough to declare victory, his razor-thin lead had stabilized about where it would end up: just 6,582 votes out of a record 1.78 million ballots cast."
- Black, Chris. (November 9, 1989). "POLLSTERS SAY SOME VOTERS LIE", Boston Globe
- Bacon, Perry Jr. (January 23, 2007). "Can Obama Count On the Black Vote?", Time
"More than most politicians, Wilder knows personally how difficult it can be for a black candidate; during his gubernatorial campaign, the gap between his numbers in the final polls and in the actual election showed such a dramatic drop-off that it became known as the 'Wilder Effect.'"
- Smerconish, Michael. (October 23, 2008). "Decoding the lawn signs", Philadelphia Daily News
"Conventional wisdom is that people lie to pollsters in elections featuring candidates of different races. That's the Bradley effect, named for Tom Bradley, the L.A. mayor once believed to be a shoo-in for California governor. But the polls got that one all wrong. In a black-white race, the theory says, the black candidate polls better than he'll actually do on Election Day.
I saw this firsthand in '87, when Wilson Goode Sr. was forecast to beat Frank Rizzo by double digits but won by only 2 percent. The post-election explanation? White liberals didn't want to tell a pollster they were voting for Rizzo. "
- Kurtz, Howard. (1987, November 4). "Goode Holds Slim Majority; Challenger Rizzo Refuses to Concede", The Washington Post, Page A25
- West, Paul. (October 6, 2006). "Ford plays against type in bid for Senate upset", The Baltimore Sun
"An independent statewide poll by Mason-Dixon, released this week, has Ford ahead by 1 percentage point. But public opinion surveys are notoriously unreliable when one of the candidates is black. Campaign strategists often subtract a "racial slippage" factor, to account for surveys that might exaggerate a black candidate's strength by up to 9 percentage points.
In North Carolina, a Mason-Dixon poll a week before the 1990 election gave black Democrat Harvey Gantt a 4-point lead over Republican Sen. Jesse Helms; Gantt lost by 6 percentage points.
In the 1989 Virginia governor's race, L. Douglas Wilder, a black Democrat, had an 11-point poll advantage a week before the election; he won by less than 1 point.
Citing the "Wilder effect," Vanderbilt University political scientist Christian Grose wonders whether many Tennesseans who say they're undecided – roughly one in seven voters – might simply be unwilling to tell pollsters they won't back a black candidate."
- Gates, Henry Louis Jr. (September 25, 1995). "Powell and the Black Elite", The New Yorker
- Barnes, Fred. (November 17, 2003). "The Wilder Effect", The Weekly Standard
"Why did Jindal lose after leading his Democratic opponent, Kathleen Blanco, in statewide polls in the weeks before the election? In a word, race. What occurred was the 'Wilder effect,' named after the black Virginia governor elected in 1989. Wilder, a Democrat, polled well, then won narrowly. Many white voters, it turned out, said they intended to vote for a black candidate when they really didn't. Questioned by pollsters, they were leery of being seen as racially prejudiced."
- Dreher, Rod. (November 21, 2003). "Why Jindal Lost Archived October 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", National Review Online
"You might chalk it up to the "Wilder Effect," in which white voters tell pollsters they're going to vote for a minority candidate, but actually vote for the white one. If that were the case, though, Jindal's poll numbers would have held firm during the last week, and he would have received a shock on election day. In fact, his numbers collapsed steadily in the last week of the campaign, when Blanco's powerful commercial (featuring a Republican doctor in a wheelchair saying he was voting Blanco because Jindal is a heartless technocrat) began running in the state, and went unanswered by the Jindal camp. "
- Hill, John and Mike Hasten, Melody Brumble and Michelle Mahfoufi. (2003, November 4). "New Orleans mayor crosses party lines, endorses Jindal Archived May 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.", Capitol Watch Archived July 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
"Based on his nightly polling data, Kennedy projected the race would be 50.4 percent for Blanco and 49.6 percent for Jindal, which is a statistical tie. As was the case when Jindal had an 11-point lead last week, voters shifted first from Jindal to undecided, Kennedy said."
- Deslatte, Melinda. (October 20, 2007). "Jindal wins La. governor's race Archived December 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.", Associated Press
" With about 92 percent of the vote in, Jindal had 625,036 votes or 53 percent – more than enough to win outright and avoid a Nov. 17 runoff. His nearest competitors: Democrat Walter Boasso with 208,690 votes or 18 percent; Independent John Georges had 1167,477 votes or 14 percent; Democrat Foster Campbell had 151,101 or 13 percent. Eight candidates divided the rest."
- Abade, Rene. (October 10, 2007). "Southeastern Gubernatorial Poll: Jindal holds commanding lead", Southeastern Social Sciences Research Center
"The Southeastern poll results, based on a statewide random sample of 641 registered voters, was conducted Oct. 1–7 and has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent ... Corbello said a surprising 29 percent of voters said they were undecided or refused to state a preference. However, when the undecided 'leaners' are apportioned among the candidates, Jindal has 49.6 percent, Boasso 11.2 percent, Georges 10.8 percent and Campbell 6.2 percent."
- Cose, Ellis. (October 30, 2006), "The 'Bradley Effect' Archived February 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.", Newsweek
"Is Harold Ford Jr. really doing as well as the polls suggest? Is he conceivably on his way to becoming the first black Southern senator since Reconstruction? The answer may well be yes, but Ford can hardly take that for granted. As black candidates reaching out to largely white constituencies have discovered in the past, when it comes to measuring political popularity there are lies, damned lies—and polls, on which they rest their fate at their peril."
- Locker, Richard. (November 1, 2006). "Is Ford's white support for real? — Political correctness can skew polling", Memphis Commercial Appeal
- Rowland, Ashley. (November 12, 2006). "Impact of race on Ford's defeat debated[permanent dead link]", Chattanooga Times Free Press
"Many experts predicted Rep. Ford would lose by a wider margin than he did because some of his white supporters would desert him – a pattern first documented in 1982, when former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost the California governor's race by a larger-than-expected margin. Researchers said white voters felt social pressure to tell pollsters they would vote for Mr. Bradley, who was black, but voted for his white opponent when they cast their ballots.
Dr. Swain said the close margin of victory in the Corker-Ford contest shows whites did vote for Rep. Ford, and the 'Bradley effect' may be lessening."
- Alter, Jonathan. (2006, December 25–2, 007, January 1). "Is America Ready? Archived February 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.", Newsweek
"One piece of encouraging news from Tennessee is that the returns showed no signs of the 'Bradley Effect,' in which white voters tell pollsters they will vote for the black candidate, then go into the voting booth and choose someone else."
- Whitaker, Bill. (October 12, 2008). "A Matter of Race", CBS News Sunday Morning
"CBS pollster Kathleen Frankovic doesn't see [the Bradley effect] any more. In recent elections with black candidates – Deval Patrick's winning governor's race in Massachusetts, in Tennessee, Harold Ford losing his run for the Senate, both in 2006 – the polls were right-on.
'I really do believe that the so-called Bradley effect is an artifact of a certain place and a certain time,' she said. 'It's an artifact of the 1980s.'"
- Koppelman, Alex. (January 24, 2008). "Will whites vote for Barack Obama?", Salon.com
"'The argument of a specific Bradley effect,' insisted Langer, 'still looks to me to like a theory in search of data ... I don't see why this effect would be limited, before now, to a handful of elections 15 to 25 years ago. And I don't know how to understand its absence in so many other black-white races – five [Senate and governors'] races in 2006 alone, as I note – in which pre-election polling was dead on.'
'Newton's Law of Gravity doesn't just work on Thursdays,' Langer said. 'You want an effect to be clearly established as an effect through analysis of empirical data, and maybe in more than one election. And to call it an effect you want it to be a consistent effect, or to explain its inconsistency'".
- Walker, Adrian. (January 4, 2007). "Sharing the Pride", The Boston Globe
"I warned [Deval Patrick], you've got to watch those polls. But I think people are becoming less resistant to saying, 'I'm going to vote for the person whether it's a woman, or gay, or whatever.' There's more openness – but we've still got to watch it."
- Whitaker, Bill. (October 12, 2008). "A Matter of Race", CBS News Sunday Morning'
- Henry, William A. III. (November 15, 1982). "Fighting the Last War", Time
"The most tangled polling errors came in California, where almost no one forecast Republican George Deukmejian's 50,000-vote victory over Tom Bradley. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times ran a frontpage story on election morning about the lineup of local politicians vying to succeed Bradley as the city's mayor. The San Francisco Chronicle's first election extra bannered: BRADLEY WIN PROJECTED. While ABC was predicting Deukmejian's victory, its affiliate stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco were using exit polls of their own to call the race for Bradley instead."
- "The Bradley Effect – Selective Memory", RealClearPolitics.
- Rosenthal, Andrew. (November 9, 1989). "The 1989 Elections: Predicting the outcome; Broad disparities in votes and polls raising questions", The New York Times
- Cooper, Desiree. (December 12, 2006). "Let's talk to break a White House tradition", Detroit Free Press
- Biegelsen, Amy. (January 9, 2008). "Obama's Wilder Lesson Archived October 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", Style Weekly
"In 1989, nobody saw it coming save Paul Goldman, Wilder's longtime political Svengali, and Wilder – now Richmond's mayor – himself. Thanks in part to advice from campaign pollster Michael Donilon, who went on to advise John Kerry's 2004 bid for the White House, Goldman assumed that anything short of a definitive commitment of support from a white poll respondent couldn't be trusted and weighted his poll's statistical model accordingly. His poll indicated a virtual tossup, putting Wilder's chances at 50–50. ... 'This was a historic campaign,' Goldman says. 'Everybody was talking about it – race, race, race – so you give whatever answer's the socially acceptable one.'"
- Kohut, Andrew. (January 10, 2008). "Getting It Wrong", The New York Times
"Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites. Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here's the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews. I’ve experienced this myself. In 1989, as a Gallup pollster, I overestimated the support for David Dinkins in his first race for New York City mayor against Rudolph Giuliani; Mr. Dinkins was elected, but with a two percentage point margin of victory, not the 15 I had predicted. I concluded, eventually, that I got it wrong not so much because respondents were lying to our interviewers but because poorer, less well-educated voters were less likely to agree to answer our questions. That was a decisive factor in my miscall."
- Holmes, Stephen A. (October 12, 2008). Pollsters Debate 'Bradley Effect', The Washington Post, Page A06
"Kohut recently conducted a study in which interviewers spent months repeatedly calling people back until they agreed to talk. He said that helped him see who is often missed in polling. 'Poorer, less-educated whites don't like to do these polls as much as better-educated people do,' he said. 'The refusals come from the same class of people who tend to be the most racially intolerant.'"
- Siddique, Haroon (January 9, 2008). "Did racist voters cost Obama the primary?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
- Mathews, Joe (2009) "The Bradley Effect Was about Guns, Not Racism Archived September 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine." California Journal of Politics and Policy: Vol. 1 : Iss. 1, Article 27. DOI: 10.2202/1944-4370.1054
- Russo, Frank D. (January 9, 2008). The "Bradley Effect" on Obama-Clinton Polling in New Hampshire May Be Overstated Archived January 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
"While the 1982 California gubernatorial contest is not the only race where the race of the candidate has been thought to be a factor in polling gone awry, there are a number of other reasons why the Field Poll may not have been accurate. I spoke with Mark DiCamillo, Director of the Field Poll—whose phone has been ringing off the hook about this today. He told me that there was a memo done by the polling organization shortly after the election to try to understand what had occurred (not available online as it predated the internet) that identified four possible factors:
1. A late shift in voter preference after the poll, which could have reflected bias.
2. A well organized GOP absentee ballot program (Bradley won the day of election results).
3. The presence of a handgun initiative on the same ballot that brought out a skewed electorate different from the model used to predict likely voters.
4. Lower turnout by minorities because Bradley did not turn out the base of black voters.
- Russo, Sal. (October 20, 2008). "Tom Bradley Didn't Lose Because of Race", The Wall Street Journal
"Private, daily tracking polls showed that, with a retooled campaign, Mr. Deukmejian methodically closed the gap. On the Sunday night before the day of the election—usually the last day of tracking polls the campaign will pay for—Mr. Deukmejian had closed to less than two percentage points. The campaign polled Monday night, too. It showed Mr. Deukmejian less than 1% behind. Private pollster Lawrence Research predicted to the campaign a razor-thin victory—exactly what happened. The public polls stopped polling too soon, missing the Deukmejian surge. Most important, they ignored the absentee ballot. Mr. Deukmejian's polling asked if people had voted absentee; other polls, including the exit polls, did not."
- Levin, Blair. (October 19, 2008). "What Bradley Effect?", The New York Times
"On election night in 1982, with 3,000 supporters celebrating prematurely at a downtown hotel, I was upstairs reviewing early results that suggested Bradley would probably lose. But he wasn't losing because of race. He was losing because an unpopular gun control initiative and an aggressive Republican absentee ballot program generated hundreds of thousands of Republican votes no pollster anticipated, giving Mr. Deukmejian a narrow victory. "
- Levin, Blair. (October 21, 2008). Interview, NPR
- Safire, William (September 26, 2008). "The Bradley Effect". The New York Times Magazine.
- Zogby, John (October 2008). "Are Voters Telling The Truth About Race?". Forbes.
- Sammon, Bill (September 17, 2008). "Sebelius Revives Fears of 'Bradley Effect' With Race Comment". Fox News Channel. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008.
- Frankovic, Kathy (September 19, 2008). Does Race Skew Polling?. CBS News.
- Daniel J. Hopkins (October 4, 2008). "No More Wilder Effect, Never a Whitman Effect: When and Why Polls Mislead about Black and Female Candidates" (PDF). Department of Government, Harvard University. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 10, 2008. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
- Fulbright, Leslie (October 21, 2008). "Many think 'Bradley effect' won't hurt Obama". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
- "Obama needs early win to get black vote".
Melissa V. Harris-Lacewell, professor of political science at Princeton University in New Jersey, said black voters don't trust whites who tell pollsters they would vote for a black candidate. She noted the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of L. Douglas Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond. Mr. Wilder had been leading by double digits in polls but won the election by fewer than 7,000 votes in the gubernatorial election. "So even getting white voters to say to pollsters they will vote for [Mr. Obama] doesn't counteract fully the apprehension black voters have about his electability," Ms. Harris-Lacewell said.
- Jones, Jackie. (January 2, 2008). "Barack Obama, Unelectable ‘Hopemonger?’ Campaign, Polls Proving the Naysayers Wrong Archived January 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", BlackAmericaWeb.com
"Still, there are people who believe what Edley called 'the Bradley factor' could stall Obama's campaign. When Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor in California in 1982, all the polls had him leading handily, 'but when people got behind the curtain, they couldn't pull the lever' for him, Edley said. 'The question is to what extent does that Bradley effect still an effect 25 years later?'"
- Tabin, John. (January 9, 2008). "It's Crying Time Again[permanent dead link]", The American Spectator
"So how did she do it? How did Hillary Clinton defy Barack Obama's double-digit lead in the New Hampshire polls and pull out a victory yesterday? Hindsight being 20/20, we can now see that she had a few things going for her. ...The Bradley Effect. Named for Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who narrowly lost the 1982 race for California governor despite a lead in the polls, this is the tendency of black candidates to under-perform their poll numbers. Whether because of closet racism or a more innocent reluctance to appear politically incorrect, a statistically significant number of voters often tell pollsters they'll vote for a black candidate, but turn around and vote for a white opponent in the privacy of the ballot box. The effect seems to have diminished in recent election cycles, but may have played a role in New Hampshire."
- Andrew, Tanenbaum. "News from the Vote Master". Retrieved January 13, 2008.
- ""Ballot Changes Cited in Vote's Discrepancy With Polls: Clinton's Favorable Placement on Ballots May Account for Part of Poll Mistakes", Opinion By Jon A. Krosnick, Professor, Stanford University, January 9, 2008". Retrieved March 1, 2018.
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- "North Carolina Statewide Survey Research Report" (PDF). Tel Opinion Research, LLC. August 18, 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 9, 2008.
- Schwarz, Joel. (February 6, 2008). "Super Tuesday results indicate race card may be a joker in primaries Archived February 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.", University of Washington Office of News and Information
- Will closet racism derail Obama?, BBC News, October 20, 2008
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- Smith, Ben (October 30, 2008). "Race and the economy". The Politico. Retrieved October 6, 2008.
- "Philadelphia 18th Ward election results". Philadelphia County Board of Elections. November 4, 2008. Archived from the original on November 8, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2008.
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- Design, Hexalys. "The Palmer Effect Part 2: Yes, We Really Really Can". www.thesimon.com. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
- Robinson, Eugene. (January 11, 2008). "Echoes Of Tom Bradley", The Washington Post
"We'll have plenty of chances in the coming weeks to measure pre-election polls against actual results – including in states with much more racial diversity than New Hampshire. The only prediction I'll make is that following Tuesday's big surprise, embarrassed pollsters and pundits will be especially vigilant for any sign that the 'Bradley effect,' unseen in recent years, might have crept back."
- Silver, Nate (August 11, 2008). "The Persistent Myth of the Bradley Effect". FiveThirtyEight.com.
- Blumenthal, Mark. (July 3, 2007). "Cell Phones and Political Surveys: Part 1", Pollster.com
- "Poll Data Doesn't Reflect Bradley Effect". CBS News. November 7, 2008.
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